Fairgrounds task force has agreed on recommendations for future use

The final details are still being worked out and will be delivered to the Minnehaha County Commission in May.

Aerial view of the W.H. Lyon Fairgrounds in Sioux Falls.
Contributed / Sioux Empire Fair

SIOUX FALLS — The task force studying the future of the W.H. Lyon Fairgrounds has agreed on the broad strokes of four recommendations.

The details of those recommendations are still being finalized and will be presented to the Minnehaha County Commission in May. But in general, the 12-member task force believes the grounds east of Interstate 29 in Sioux Falls should focus on agriculture-related activities. The draft of the recommendations include:

  • Addressing the issue of land use. The Lyon family, which donated the land for the fairgrounds decades ago, still has a deed with restrictions that need to be examined legally and through discussions.  The panel said those issues needed to be resolved to provide confidence to any development.
  • Developing an agriculture-focused master plan to provide an outline for possible projects.
  • Preparing a business model in order to ensure financial sustainability for ongoing operations. Some of the financial ideas floated were finding further ways to collect sales tax dollars, forming an endowment so donations could be received and offering naming rights to facilities.
  • Exploring private/public partnerships to establish community needs and opportunities.
Minnehaha County commissioners on Friday heard suggestions from the former director of the Nebraska State Fair and a company leader who works with venues around the country.

County Commission Administrative Officer Carol Muller is putting touches on the final report after the group held its last meeting earlier this month and will share the document with task force members.

The final report will be presented by architectural engineer and community activist Mike Jamison and attorney Erik Nyberg.

“The group did a nice job of sharing thoughts and ideas,” Jamison said in an interview. “Having these open meetings can take some of the questions out of the process."


A vision statement said the group considered the 180 acres of the fairgrounds as an "embarrassment." That language was later modified in the final meeting to say they believe the event grounds need to meet the “same standards of excellence as is found elsewhere in Sioux Falls”

They noted that “everything we do in Sioux Falls is generally best in its class,” noting the Sanford Sports Complex, the Denny Sanford Premier Center, the downtown redevelopment, the Chamber of Commerce and the United Way.

County officials say an offer to buy the land for possible expansion of nearby quartzite mine isn't on the table.

The recommendations include improving the aging buildings and structures on the grounds that are “in disrepair.” The group said that it could take several years to implement any projects but that the grounds need to be upgraded to support operations into the next 30 or 40 years.

They made it clear they respect the work of the current management and fair association for maintaining the grounds on a tight budget. However, the task force said they would like to see improvements that could attract more entertainment options, commercial and retail development, research and even residential projects.

Members emphasized the need to keep the grounds focused on agriculture, making it a regional ag campus, something that isn’t offered in other areas of the city or county.

The recommendations don't address a proposal by Knife River, the company operating nearby quarries, to purchase the fairgrounds. Jamison said that proposal wasn't really discussed as a possibility.

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